As a leader, sometimes I’m called upon to inflict pain. I have to make decisions that hurt people in order to achieve some larger purpose. The danger in doing so is that I can keep that pain at arm’s length. It’s hard to embrace pain, even when that may be what God is calling you to do. I have to continually press into pain in life if I’m to lead well.
If you have proven yourself trustworthy to God, watch out! He may trust you with one of his most precious and misinterpreted of gifts: the gift of pain.
The prosperity gospel people have it wrong. God is probably more interested in our response to testing than he is in showering us with material blessings.
How will you do in tough times? This is the age-old bet that Satan makes with God, the best example of which we see in the book of Job. It goes like this: “I’ll bet your servant is just in it for the good times, let’s see how he does with a little pain in his life.”
You may say to me, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say, you’ve never gone through what’s happened to me… you don’t understand my pain.” And my answer is, you’re right. I can’t understand your pain. But while our family is exceedingly blessed, we have also known pain of our own.
Our personal pain
In particular, my youngest daughter has experienced more pain than anyone should ever have to go through. When she was young, she had a chronic infection in her ears that was extremely painful, making it hard for her to hear. In addition to her physical pain, she struggled just to understand what people were saying. Then, when she was a little older, we discovered that her palate wasn’t fully formed. Issues of memory and learning became more apparent.
Despite numerous surgeries, she has not been able to articulate words as most people do. When she was a teenager, she began having seizures. She has been labeled by professionals and isolated from her peers. She has struggled with what it means to be different. Loneliness is her frequent companion. Every week Karen used to take her an hour away to see specialists.
And we as parents have carried the burdens of crushed hopes while trying to meet all the special needs.
I don’t have any answers for her when I see her heart broken because other people have friends and she doesn’t. When she looks at me with eyes that say, “Daddy, it’s not fair,” I don’t have answers for her.
It’s not fair! Why is it that some people never seem to catch a break? All I know is that the pain they experience can send them to Jesus’ feet faster than other people. That’s why he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The brokenhearted need Jesus more than the rest of us.
We have a choice
Because it’s not fair that my daughter – or anyone else – should be saddled with so much pain, we have a choice. We can either shake our fists at an all-powerful God who seemingly put us in this mess, or we can choose to trust and worship him, knowing that somehow he will redeem it.
As hard as it is to say it, we don’t have any other choice. All of us who have experienced pain, as my daughter has, would seem to have a right to be angry at God and to allow that anger to crystallize into bitterness.
But we can’t go there – our Creator God is the author of all life. Somehow in the midst of the pain, even through tears, we have to trust him. He is the “Father of lights” who, the Bible tells us, gives us good and perfect gifts.As we trust him, we do so believing that he does answer us. We believe that if that answer doesn’t stop our pain, at least it redeems it.
Yes, we don’t understand what we’ve had to go through. Still, we will stand with Job and say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” We’ll follow Leah as she follows God, knowing that her faith is often stronger than ours. When sometimes we half-step our way to God, she is usually able to trust him with her whole heart.
God is betting on you
All of your life, you’ll have opportunities to incubate a vindictive spirit when bad and painful things happen. You’ll have repeated chances to turn and blame God. But if you have a testimony of patience and long-suffering in the face of pain, then God wins the high stakes bet he placed on you.
The Bible talks about experiencing the “fellowship of his sufferings.” That’s not a fellowship any of us willingly choose. What does that even look like?
I’ll tell you what it looks like. It looks like a dance I went to last week. It was a dance especially for people with special needs. They were lame, deformed, and spastic. Dwarves and Downs Syndrome. The kind of people children point at. And they were dancing for all they were worth. Leah among them.
It was glorious. If they were poor in spirit, they didn’t know it. And if you looked closely, for a second, I swear you could see Jesus dancing, right in the middle of them.
I’m pretty sure I heard him laughing too. So will we all one day.
If you find yourself in a hard place this week, I hope you know down deep that God is betting on you. You are one of his greatest creations. And sometimes God uses pain to reveal that greatness.